The black wolf led them to Vin's camp. Nathan saw that Vin had a pile of firewood stacked by one of the tress. He gave orders to build a fire. The snow had stopped as they carried the injured ranger to the camp. Jaydee laid the fire as Ezra grabbed the blankets they brought off the horses. He quickly spread them out close to the fire so they could lay Vin on them. Once Josiah placed Vin on the blankets he moved to the wood and used a call fire spell to light the wood quickly. Buck grabbed Jaydee to help him with the horses. Chris immediately knelt down next to Vin.
"Get those wet clothes off him," Nathan instructed.
"Are you crazy," Chris protested. "It's freezing out here."
"It will take too long to warm him up in those wet clothes," Nathan said as he pulled out his knife. "The blankets and the fire will keep him warm."
Chris and Ezra did as Nathan said. When they had Vin stripped of his tunic and cloak they bundled him in the blankets. Mystra flew from the wolf's back and lay across Vin's chest.
"Mira!" Vin called. "Please let me come with you."
"Easy Vin," Chris said placing a hand on the agitated elf's forehead.
"So cold," Vin whispered.
The black wolf walked over to Chris and pushed him aside so he could lie next to Vin. Chris was surprised the wolf was still there and looked around. The pack was still with them acting as guards. He looked down at the black wolf and was surprised at the look of intelligence in the yellow eyes. Chris sat down next to Vin's head and placed it in his lap.
"Now what?" Chris asked.
"I have to get this boot off," Nathan said.
Nathan used the knife to cut away Vin's leggings and pull the boot off his right foot. He took the knife and began to cut the bloody boot from Vin's left leg. When he tried to pull the leather away Vin cried out and the wolf growled. The blood had frozen the leather to Vin's flesh.
"Damn," Nathan sighed.
"I'll get some water boiling," Josiah offered.
"I'll gather more wood for the fire," Ezra said as he picked up one of the lanterns.
"Come on, kid, I'll show you how to make one of these shelters," Buck said knowing they wouldn't be any use by the fire.
Vin didn't know what was going on. Mira was standing by the trees watching him. His leg was really starting to hurt. He felt someone trying to remove his boot. Vin thought the orcs had him and tried to struggle but was stopped by a heavy weigh on is chest. He began to toss his head when he felt a soothing hand touch his forehead. The touch was familiar and Vin tried to focus on that.
"Vin," Chris called when he saw Vin trying to focus on him. "That's it look at me."
"Chris," Vin said weakly.
"You're safe," Chris said relieved. "Nathan's gonna tale good care of you."
"Mira said not my time," Vin mumbled.
"Chris get ready to hold him," Nathan said. "This might hurt."
Chris looked up to see Josiah remove the pot of hot water from the fire. He held the pot out to Nathan who added some snow to cool it down. When it was at a temperature Nathan could tolerate he dipped in a bandage then wrung it out.
"Ready?" he asked.
Chris nodded and Josiah moved closer to help. Nathan placed the hot cloth on Vin leg. As the heat began to penetrate and Vin started to get restless. His struggles were week and they had no problem holding him down. Ezra came back with more wood for the fire and added a few pieces to make it burn hotter. The blood was finally melted enough that Nathan was able to remove the boot. He cleaned Vin's leg and was satisfied with what he saw.
"He's lucky it was snowing," Nathan said. "The cold kept him from bleeding too much."
"How bad is it?" Chris asked.
"I should be able to heal the leg without any trouble," Nathan said. "I can't do anything for the fever except with herbs. We also have to keep him warm."
Nathan placed his hands on Vin's leg and began to chant. It always amazed Chris at the power of the clerics. Chris looked around the camp to see Buck and Jaydee constructing another shelter. Josiah was checking the one Vin made to see if it was still usable. Ezra was standing close to the fire trying to stay warm.
"Get any closer, Ezra, and you might as well be standing in it," Chris said trying to break the tension.
"Just trying to get all the warmth I can before I take care of the mounts," Ezra said.
"What do you make of the wolves?" Chris asked knowing the bard had a wealth of information stored in his head.
"I believe I know who they belong to," Ezra admitted. "But I'm finding it hard to believe."
Chris was just about to ask whom when they heard a rustling in the forest. Ezra pulled his sword. Buck heard the noise also and was standing by the shelter with his hand on his sword. Jaydee stood next to him with his sword already out. They heard the noise again and Chris couldn't understand why the wolves weren't paying attention to it. Mystra made a nervous chirp from where she lay on Vin's chest. The noise was getting closer and they all tensed thinking it was more orcs. They all sighed in relief as Vin's horse came out of the trees and joined the others. Shadow cawed at the horse in a scolding tone. Ezra chuckled as he sheathed his sword.
"I do believe we are jumping at shadows," Ezra said. "I'll care for the horses."
Vin was starting to struggle and Chris heard him call out some unfamiliar names. The ranger called for Mira again but sounded angry when he mention another name. Chris wasn't able to hear who it was as Vin wasn't talking clearly. Chris glanced at Nathan and saw he was almost done.
"How's the shelter look?" Chris asked as Josiah came back to the fire.
"Vin knows how to build them sturdy," Josiah said. "I'll go help Ezra with the horses."
Chris nodded and watched Josiah walk away. He glanced up at the sky trying to see if any stars were out. The clouds hung low over the forest and Chris suspected they hadn't seen the last of the snow.
"Well that's all I can do," Nathan said as he looked up. "I healed the leg and the finger nails he pulled off."
"How did that happen?" Chris asked.
"Not sure," Nathan said. "Are the shelters ready?"
"Josiah said Vin's is fine," Chris answered.
"Good, lets get some clothes on him and inside," Nathan said.
Nathan got up and went over to the horses and grabbed one of the packs. He came back and pulled out some wool leggings and a wool tunic. With Chris's help they got Vin dressed and wrapped back in the blankets. Josiah left Ezra with the horses to lend a hand moving Vin. He picked the slight elf up as Chris and Nathan moved some of the blankets into the shelter.
"Only two people are going to fit inside," Nathan said.
"You should stay with him," Chris said.
Nathan agreed and they carefully put Vin into the shelter. Nathan went to go in when the black wolf moved passed him and entered. They watched as he again lay by Vin. Nathan shook his head and went inside. Chris and Josiah went to help finish the other shelter.
"It's going to be a little tight but at least we'll be warm," Buck smiled. "How's the imp?"
"He has a fever but Nathan was able to heal the leg," Chris said.
With five of them fixing the shelter it was finished in no time. Jaydee was cutting the branches to use as bedding when they heard Vin scream for Chris. The leader was sitting by the fire and jumped up to race for the shelter.
"You better stay with him Chris," Nathan said as he came out. "He doesn't seem to know me."
"Alright," Chris agreed. "I don't think we'll need to set a guard tonight."
"Not with these guys for guards," Buck said pointing to the wolves.
"I want everyone to get some sleep," Chris said. "We have a long ride back tomorrow."
They all agreed and Chris moved into the shelter. The black wolf looked up at him as if to say it was about time. Chris stretched out next to Vin on the opposite side of the wolf. He could feel the elf shaking even with the all the covers and the warmth of the wolf. Chris removed his cloak and crawled under the covers with Vin. He pulled the elf across his chest then threw his cloak over them. The wolf shifted closer then let out a loud bark. Another wolf materialized at the entrance and crawled in. It cuddled up next to Chris. In a short time Vin's shaking stopped and Chris sighed as he listened to the others arguing about the other shelter.
"We sure are gonna be cozy," Jaydee said.
"Well, gentlemen, I am going to take our leaders advice and get some sleep," Ezra announced as he crawled in.
The others followed and some shuffling had to be done to accommodate all of them. Shadow had the easiest time as he perched on a branch by Josiah and tucked his head under his wing. When they were all settled one of the wolves popped his head in to check. When he was satisfied at what he found he walked in and settled next to Ezra who was close to the trunk of the tree. Soon three others came in also. One settled next to Jaydee, Josiah and Nathan. Buck was in between Josiah and Nathan so didn't get a wolf.
"Hey what are they doing?" Jaydee asked as the wolf next to him licked his face.
"I believe they are offering us their warmth," Ezra said. "I for one am not going to let them get away."
Ezra shifted to his side and threw his arm over the wolf so he could get a close as he could. Jaydee did the same and sighed. Ezra was right no use in pushing them away, not when they were so nice and warm. Just as they were settling down to sleep one of the wolves outside howled as a warning. The haunting sound echoed against the mountains.
Vin jumped at the sound but quickly settled as Chris stroked his back. Chris looked over at the black wolf and he could have sworn it was smiling at him. The warmth from the two wolves was quickly putting his exhausted body to sleep. Chris sighed and drifted off to sleep with a vision of a woman standing next to a large white wolf.
Vin's scream ripped through the camp startling everyone awake. Chris tried to hold the thrashing elf as Vin cursed and ranted in several languages. Nathan's head appeared in the opening of the shelter and grabbed Vin's legs. Vin's struggles ended in a fit of coughing that left him breathless.
"Chris sit him up," Nathan instructed as he grabbed Vin's arm. "It'll help him breathe."
"Damn it, Nathan, he's burning up," Chris said as he pushed Vin's sweaty hair off his face.
"I know," Nathan sighed. "I'm gonna start the fire and make him some willow bark tea."
Chris watched as Nathan crawled back out. Vin's breathing was a little better and Chris shifted him to a more comfortable position. Vin started to shiver without the extra warmth from the black wolf. The mercenary pulled the blankets higher on Vin's body and wrapped the elf in his arms. Vin whimpered then was quiet. Chris glanced through the branches of the spruce and saw the sun shinning. It was hard to tell the time but Chris guessed it was mid morning. Chris sighed and leaned back against the trunk of the tree. The black wolf rested his chin on Chris's leg and the blonde leader absently scratched his ears.
As Nathan crawled from the shelter he saw Josiah standing by a blazing fire. The cleric joined the Magic User as he held his hands to the fire.
"How bad?" Josiah asked.
"He's running a fever and he's coughing," Nathan answered.
"That ain't good," Josiah frowned.
"No it ain't," Nathan agreed and looked around camp. "Where are the horses?"
"Buck and Jaydee took them down to the lake," Josiah replied.
Nathan moved to the shelter to get his pack. When he came back out he saw Ezra still asleep. The two wolves stretched out on either side of the bard looked up as he came in.
"You two stay there and he'll never get up," Nathan commented.
"On the contrary, my good, cleric, I'm awake," Ezra said. "How is our elfin companion?"
"Not good," Nathan said. "A cough has settled in his chest."
"To be perfectly honest, I was surprised he was even alive," Ezra said as he sat up. "There's no telling how long he was laying out in the snow."
"I know what you mean," Nathan sighed. "Now I have to keep him alive."
"I have all the confidence in you," Ezra said as he lay back down. "Please inform me when breakfast is ready."
Nathan was surprised at Ezra's trust in him. The two of them didn't get along all that well. The worldly bard just seemed to rub Nathan the wrong way. He shook his head at Ezra's last comment as he took the pack and went out.
"I put some water on," Josiah said as he saw Nathan approach with the pack.
"Hey look what we found," Jaydee exclaimed as he came back to camp.
Josiah looked up to see Jaydee pulling something. As the young man got closer he could see it was deer hide.
"So Vin did get some hunting in before he was hurt," Josiah said.
"Yeah we found them in a tree," Jaydee said excitedly.
"The Imp was able to get a deer and a boar before he stepped in the trap," Buck elaborated as he led the horses into camp. "So where's the peacock?"
"Still curled up with the wolves, "Nathan answered as he poured the contents of the pouch he was holding in the bowling water. "Said to come get him when breakfast was ready."
"He did, did he," Buck smiled. "We'll see about that."
"And what did you have planned, my friend?" Ezra asked as he emerged from the shelter followed by the wolves.
"I would have thought of something," Buck laughed.
"How's Vin?" Jaydee asked in concern.
"Not too good," Nathan admitted. "Brewing some willow bark tea to ease his cough. Josiah can you and Buck help Chris bring Vin out to the fire."
Josiah handed the spoon he was using to stir the oatmeal to Ezra as he followed Buck. The shelter wasn't big enough for all of them and Josiah waited at the entrance. The black wolf came out first with Mystra on his back. Bucked backed out carrying Vin's legs. The going was awkward as he tried to keep Vin covered with the blankets. Josiah lifted Vin as soon as the elf was far enough out of the shelter. Chris handed Buck the extra blankets before following. Buck took the blankets and spread them close to the fire. When Buck was finished Josiah laid Vin on them. The half elf moaned then began to cough. Josiah quickly sat Vin up and braced him against his chest. As Vin continued to cough they could hear the congestion that had settled in the elf's lungs. Chris took one of the blankets and draped it around Vin's head. Vin's sweaty hair was plastered to his head and Chris didn't want his to catch a chill. Nathan poured some of the tea in a cup and handed it to Chris.
"See if you can get him to drink this," Nathan said.
Josiah repositioned Vin as Chris held the cup to his lips. Chris slowly tipped the cup until some of the liquid dribbled into Vin's mouth. Vin swallowed the first mouthful but refused any more of the bitter brew.
"Come on, Vin, drink," Chris coaxed but Vin refused.
"Why don't you try him on some plan water first," Josiah suggested.
Nathan nodded and put some water in a pot. The cleric didn't want to give Vin cold water. When the water was luke-warm Nathan handed Chris the cup. As soon as the mercenary put the cup to Vin's lips he jerked his head away. Josiah grabbed Vin's head and Vin started to struggle. Chris was able to dribble a small amount of water into Vin's mouth. The elf choked on the water and started to cough.
"Damn it, Nathan, this isn't going to work," Chris yelled frustrated.
"We gotta get him to drink," Nathan insisted. "Try again."
"Might I give it a try?" Ezra asked as he put his oatmeal bowl down.
Chris raised his eyebrows and handed the water to Ezra. The bard told Josiah to hold Vin in a reclining position. Ezra grabbed a spoon and ladled some of the water into Vin's mouth. Vin was able to swallow that small amount without choking. Ezra gave him another spoonful and Vin drank it eagerly. He gave Vin a little more then picked up the mug with the tea. Vin was used to drinking the water and was taken by surprise by the change. Ezra smiled at Vin and switched back to he water.
Chris and Nathan watched in surprise as Ezra patiently gave Vin spoonfuls of the two liquids. The others ate their breakfast as Ezra helped Vin. The elf finally refused any more and Nathan was satisfied with the half cup of willow bark tea. Jaydee and Buck were finished with breakfast and were tacking the horses.
"Didn't know you had experience with handling ornery elves," Chris smiled.
"It is a knack I have acquired," Ezra said returning the smile.
Chris handed Josiah a bowl of oatmeal after the magic user shifted Vin to lay across his legs. He finished quickly and started to break camp. Nathan helped Josiah bundle Vin in the extra blankets. They decided to wrap Vin up like a mummy in case he began to struggle while they were riding with him. Jaydee asked why they didn't build a travois and Nathan explained that Vin needed the extra warmth from someone holding him. Josiah offered to take Vin first but Chris refused. They didn't argue as Chris secured a cloak around Vin and pulled up the hood. Buck brought over Chris's horse and the blonde mounted. Josiah handed Vin up to him and Chris settled the unresponsive elf in his lap. The others mounted and Mystra flew over to land on Ezra's shoulder. She cuddled into the fur collar of his cloak then wrapped her tail around his neck. Buck laughed saying she made and interesting scarf. They started to move out and the wolves ghosted in and out of the tress following them.
"Think they'll follow us back to town?" Jaydee asked as he watched them.
"Don't know kid," Buck admitted.
"Ezra you said you had and idea, who they belonged to," Chris said as he shifted Vin into a more comfortable position.
"I don't think you will believe me," Ezra said as he looked down and saw the black wolf walking next to his horse.
"Try us," Josiah suggested.
"Well there is only one goddess that has wolves associated with her," Ezra prompted.
"Myshalla," Chris said in awe.
"You mean...." Jaydee began but stopped in surprise.
The wolves howled at the mention of their mistress's name. The black wolf glanced up at Ezra and winked. The bard was so surprised he was at a loss for words, something that rarely happened to the talkative bard.
"Well I'll be," Josiah said with a smile.
"Ezra are you sure?" Buck said finding it hard to believe. "I've never heard of the deities helping like this."
"Oh it's documented quite well," Ezra said. "I could sing you a couple of ballads."
"Maybe another time," Buck said as he watched the wolves more closely.
"How's he doing?" Nathan said as he moved close to Chris.
"He hasn't made a sound," Chris said.
Chris spoke too soon as Vin began to toss his head calling the name Elisar. Chris dropped his reins and took a tighter hold on Vin. He knew his horse would follow the other horses. The elf quieted and Chris relaxed his grip. Chris steadied Vin and picked up the reins. The black wolf dropped back to walk beside Chris's horse. Jaydee was leading Vin's horse, which they packed with the extra gear and the meat Vin gathered. Shadow was sitting on top of the packs pulling at the strings. Jaydee noticed and shooed him away. The crow flew off and landed on Josiah's shoulder. Jaydee glanced over to Ezra and saw Mystra playing with the string from the bard's cloak.
"How come Mystra isn't upset that Vin is sick?" he asked.
"Because Vin is no longer hurt," Josiah explained. "So Mystra isn't worried."
"Yeah but he's so sick," Jaydee added.
"The familiars understand physical pain," Josiah explained as he scratched Shadow. "Don't forget, Jaydee, they are still wild animals and don't understand everything."
The ride was uneventful and for that Chris was thankful. The going got a little tough in places when the horses had to break through five-foot deep snowdrifts. Once they were on the main trail things got easier. Vin started to become restless and Chris listened as he alternately called out for Mira and cursed Elisar. Chris didn't know who they were but they obviously meant something to the elven ranger. The blonde mercenary was caught off guard as Vin had a violent coughing fit. Chris was forced to stop his horse as he desperately clung to the elf. Nathan quickly moved to Chris's side and pulled the hood from Vin's head so he could get some air. The cleric placed his hand on Vin's head and began to chant. Vin started to relax and breathed easier.
"I'll take him now Chris," Josiah said.
"No I got him," Chris protested.
"Chris you've been holding him for hours," Buck reasoned. "Your back and arms have to be getting tired."
"Chris let Josiah take him," Nathan said.
Chris nodded and Buck dismounted. Josiah moved his horse closer to Chris's. Buck stepped between the two of them and helped transfer Vin to Josiah's horse. Chris stretched his arms and back to relieve the aches. Josiah carefully positioned Vin in front of him with his head resting on his right shoulder.
"At least I won't be cold holding him, "Josiah said. "He's like an oven."
They continued on as soon as Buck mounted. As the sun was beginning to set they could see smoke coming from the chimneys as they neared town. The black wolf yipped and the others materialized out of the trees. One of the grays started howling and the rest of the pack joined him. The men looked around wondering what was happening. Then as suddenly as they appeared the wolves vanished into the forest. The only one that remained was the big black standing next to Chris's horse.
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